COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: San Diego’s health care safety net in jeopardy

San Diego’s Health Care Safety net is a robust network which includes 17 community clinic organizations and more than 100 clinic sites. This safety net allows the children of working families to stay current on immunizations and well-child visits. This safety net allows a woman who is newly uninsured to continue to take her medication for diabetes. This safety net keeps families healthy and able to work or go to school.
This safety net is in jeopardy.
Short-term funding from the stimulus package has been crippled by state budget cuts and a dramatic increase in demand for services. Back and forth between expansion and desperation, San Diego’s health care safety net is teetering between two unhealthy extremes.
Good news: The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, Funds awarded in 2009 allowed some community health centers the ability to meet the increased demand triggered by a faltering economy. At Vista Community Clinic, these funds were used to staff the new Grapevine Site at full capacity. In July 2009, we moved from an inadequate leased facility to a 12,000-square-foot building. We were able to serve 8,000 additional patients each year.
Bad news: Within six months, the demand exceeded capacity at this new facility. Demand continues to rise. Phone calls into our call center are now at 26,000 per month, a 30 percebt increase over last year.
Good news: ARRA Funds awarded in December 2009 will allow Vista Community Clinic to expand our Vale Terrace Branch. By the end of 2011 we will have an additional 32,000 square feet and the capacity to serve 12,200 new patients each year.
Bad news: Cuts to the state budget will make it difficult if not impossible to pay for the doctors and nurses needed to staff the expanded facility.
We know that the demand for affordable health care is growing. We know that the number of people without health insurance is growing. We know that primary care saves taxpayers money by preventing unnecessary emergency room visits, preventing the spread of communicable diseases and by diagnosing and treating conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
We also know that the health care problem is only going to get worse. The health care industry is growing faster than the overall economy and medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all filings.
A recent study out of UCLA reported that during the past two years, the number of Californians without health insurance rose by 28 percent. This confirms what we experience every day. Vista Community Clinic sees one in four Vista residents and one in 10 Oceanside residents for a total of 56,000 patients in more than 234,000 visits each year.
Health insurance prices are rising and making it cost-prohibitive for businesses small and large to offer health insurance to their employees. Vista Community Clinic receives 1,100 referrals each month from the Emergency Room at Tri-City Medical Center. These patients end up at the emergency room when they should have been treated at a primary care facility before the condition became emergent.
There is a better way. Individuals and families need to access primary care for routine and sick visits. Employers need to know that their employees will be treated for chronic diseases and thus able to return to work. Teachers need to know that their students will be able to afford medications when they become sick.
We need health care reform now. Our friends and neighbors need it. Our community needs it. We need it. Please call your representatives today and urge them to fight for health, long term.

Kelly Motadel, M.D., M.P.H.
Medical Director, Vista Community Clinic
1000 Vale Terrace, Vista CA 92084
(760)631-5000 x 4
www.vistacommunityclinic.org

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